It's a Guy Thing

Master of Cards

Jason Ladanye is a professional, award-winning sleight-of-hand entertainer who has performed card magic all around the world for the last twenty years. He specializes in corporate events, trade shows, and private parties for Fortune 500 companies.

Jason’s clients include the NY Yankees, General Electric, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Michael Bolton Charities, Fuji Films, and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. He’s performed for celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Michael Bolton, Tom Holland, Rosie Perez, Wolfgang Peterson, CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, and many more. He’s consulted and performed on national television shows including ABC’s 20/20 and Inside Edition.

Even though Jason is based in New York City, he’s performed in 16 different countries in the last year alone. He’s a regular performer at both the Chicago Magic Lounge in Chicago, IL, and the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA. 

When Jason’s not performing, he’s consulting, teaching, and lecturing all across the world. He wrote two books on sleight of hand, Game Changer and Confident Deceptions. Both are considered best-sellers among magicians.

To see why his peers consider Jason as one of the best card handlers alive today, check out his YouTube channel CardMagicByJason.

Interview Photos by Dino Petrocelli

How old were you when you first got interested in magic? I saw my first card trick when I was seven years old. My older brother showed it to me. He buried the four Aces into different parts of the deck. Then he snapped his fingers and now they were on top of the deck. My mind was blown. I began my journey into magic immediately after that moment. About a year later, I saw David Copperfield on television. Watching him walk through the Great Wall of China and making the Statue of Liberty vanish had a profound effect on me. Soon after that, David was performing at a theater near where I lived and my mother surprised me with tickets to the show. There’s one trick that I’ll never forget from that performance: he vanished from inside a box on stage and instantly appeared on a motorcycle in the middle of the audience — right next to me! I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing and feeling. I knew right there and then I wanted to be a professional magician.

Has your interest always been all sleight of hand with cards, or have you dabbled in other types of magic? When I first started out, I had all the usual magic props like cups and balls, linking rings, production boxes, and sponge balls. While the interesting-looking magic props in the store fascinated me, the books in the shop caught my eye as well. The first book I bought was Expert Card Technique, which was my first introduction to strong card magic. This is where it all started. I noticed that when I was asked to perform magic on the spot, I couldn’t perform any of the tricks I bought in the magic shop because it was all in a box at home. Right away I realized the value in knowing lots of card tricks. I learned to always carry a deck of cards with me. Plus, as I got older, I didn’t want to be some weird guy that carried around sponge balls in his pocket.

What initially drew you to card cheating techniques and gambling-related card material? It’s the fantasy behind it. Imagine if someone told you they knew a way to spot the winning scratch-off lotto tickets before they bought them. Perhaps they knew a way to make the ATM machine give you twice as much money without getting caught. Wouldn’t you be interested? I was intrigued by the idea of separating a sucker from his money. It’s a way to beat the system. It’s free money. This fantasy appeals to everyone on some level. Even as a kid I remember thinking I could play poker at school and win some poor kid’s lunch money. That was way easier than doing chores. And, that’s exactly what I did. I not only made money from other students, I hustled the teachers too. I got out of doing homework and tests by cheating in a few games of draw poker with my science teacher. I also believe that performing magic for my teachers gave me a lot of influence over them. I was able to get away with being late to class or skipping school altogether. They liked me. They were in awe of the tricks I could do. Rather than doing boring school projects that all the other kids had to do, I convinced my teachers to let me write essays on what it’s like to be a performer or my creative process. I mean who cares about Newton discovering gravity when one kid is up in front of the class reading people’s minds?

What sets you apart from other magicians? When someone mentions a magician, the first thing they imagine is some nerdy kid that bought a magic kit. Or, you imagine your uncle or grandfather pulling a quarter out of your ear. Or, they imagine the horrible magician that their mom hired for their tenth birthday party. Unfortunately, there’s a low standard to meet to become a professional magician. Some amateurs go to an online magic website and spend fifty bucks and they think they’re ready to start gigging. This means that there’s quite a bit of mediocrity in our field. It’s been my goal from the beginning to rise above this low standard. The absolute last thing I wanted to do was do some stupid magic tricks for people. I needed to carve out my own thing. I decided early on to create a slick and confident conman persona that does gambling-based card tricks.

Every magician does card tricks. People hear “magician” and think, “dumb card tricks”. How is your work different from that? Even though people think, “magicians do dumb card tricks,” I want people to know card tricks can be cool and sexy. Think of the movies. Think of James Bond in a casino. When I perform, it isn’t just about fooling people with card tricks. It’s also about the audience watching my character develop over the course of the show. Once the audience likes you, it’s pure entertainment. I’m basically an actor with a deck of cards. I’m pure confidence. I’m a badass motherfucker that’s going to blow your mind, take your wallet and your watch, and show you just how easy it is to get conned. I’m the smartest guy in the room. I’ve got fast hands, the custom tailored suit, and the fast car. I’m not doing my job right unless every girl in the room wants me. In my show there’s drama, suspense, comedy, tension, and resolution. I try to create the same feelings as a fast-paced action movie. The show builds over the course of the night keeping people on the edges of their seats and finishes with a spectacular climax. Almost no other magicians think this way in our craft. See how different my approach is than buying some lame magic tricks online?

Do you use card tricks to meet women and break the ice? Yes, absolutely! On a first date there’s always those awkward moments where you’re trying to read each other and figure out what to say. So, after the drinks are ordered, I’d just say, “You want to see something cool?” They always perk up and say, “Yes!” After a few tricks, she can see that I’m fun, confident, intriguing, and that I can wow her and make her laugh. Plus I’m giving her a special one-on-one show where I’m making her the star. What’s the number one thing girls want? Attention. What could be a better icebreaker for a first date? Of course, they always ask, “Do you show all the girls a card trick on the first date?” To which I respond, “Just the ones I like.” Another way I’ve found card magic breaks the ice is at an informal house party or dinner at a friend’s house. After dinner people tend to gather around in small groups and talk. Here’s a great opportunity to pull out a deck of cards and put on a small show for everyone. Last year, I spent two weeks in Beirut, Lebanon. What a great time it was to smoke the finest Cohiba’s and share my craft with everyone I met there as they showed me around their beautiful country.

Did you ever cheat in a card game? Yes. I made my living for years cheating in home games and playing straight in the casinos. Basically, the money I made hustling home games was the bankroll I needed to start playing full-time in the casino. Since you’ll get 10 years to life cheating in a casino, I focused my efforts on the small friendly home games in my area. At first, I played home games honestly just to get a feel for the environment. I quickly realized that no one… and I mean no one was paying attention to me when I handled the deck. There seems to be this notion created by Hollywood that card games are places where everyone has a loaded gun or a knife and each player watches the others like a hawk. Nothing can be further from the truth. Everyone at the table is talking to one another or watching the game on TV. Even though the game was casual, my heart was beating out of my chest the first time I moved. I soon became more comfortable. One of the techniques I used to cheat in these games was a peek. A peek allows me to secretly look at the top few cards without having to turn the deck face up. Another method I used is known as a second deal. This technique allows me to make it look like I’m dealing the top card of the deck when I’m really taking the second card. After a peek, if it’s a card that I want, I deal seconds to the other players reserving the glimpsed card for myself. If I peek the top card and it’s a card I don’t want, I can deal it fairly to my opponent and know the strength of his hand. Using peeks and second deals together makes you an unstoppable force at the card table. I can basically deal myself the cards I want, and know and control what cards my opponents get—all from a fairly shuffled deck. I used these methods for several years in multiple games and never got caught. The money I made in these home games I’d use to play straight in the casinos. I could get a bigger return on my money there.

Where did you learn these cheating techniques? There are techniques used in magic that are also used by gamblers. So even at the early age of twelve, I knew how to palm and switch cards. I knew about peeking and dealing cards off the bottom of the deck. I had a good foundation just from reading magic books. When I was a little older, I started reading books on cheating at cards. There is one book that’s considered the bible of cheating at cards: The Expert at the Card Table. Written in 1902, the author S.W. Erdnase discusses everything you need to know about how to cheat at cards in stunning detail. His insights and his experience prove that he devoted his lifetime to mastering the craft. The really fascinating thing about this book is that his insights and theories are still true today. Some of the card-handling techniques he used have been surpassed by more sophisticated methods but the magic was in the romance, in the representation of the solo hustler plying his trade in games every night to fleece unsuspecting suckers. I’ve also been very lucky to have personally met some of the best card men in the world. I’ve met and studied with card cheats that prefer not to have their names in print for obvious reasons. I’ve studied with expert card magicians like Darwin Ortiz, Tony Cabral, Andrew Wimhurst, and Jack Carpenter. I was influenced heavily by their work and strived to learn everything that they learned in their lifetimes. They instilled in me the discipline to practice. The skill-set needed to be a professional sleight of hand artist and/or card cheat is immense. These moves can take decades to master, so they need daily practice to stay sharp. I practice four to six hours almost every day. And, I’ve been doing that for the last twenty years. I am also fortunate enough to have learned more than just card work from these guys. This group also helped me develop my knowledge of the best cigars, fine whiskeys and bourbons, how to be a gentleman (even while separating you from your hard-earned money), how to dress, and how to be confident and calm while working in a game or performing on stage.

Have you ever been cheated in a card game? No. I’ve got a good eye for spotting cheats. It’s rare that someone knows almost every cheating technique out there. Most cheats specialize in just one or two moves. The fact that I know all the cheating moves gives me a huge edge in spotting other card hustlers, and I did find a few cheats at the table. At this one particular home game, the host always invited a few amateur players, or “fish” as we called them. They were good for a few extra grand over the course of the week, as the real players would clean them out. Most of these new players had no idea how to handle cards. There was one player named Anthony that I just assumed had absolutely no knowledge of proper shuffling procedures at the card table. He always shuffled the cards face up! At first, I didn’t mind so much because it allowed me to see what cards he was about to deal. It took one hand to see what he was up to. What Anthony was really doing was using this face-up shuffle to find and organize the cards. He was setting the flop, turn, and river cards as well as his own hole cards. He set the deck up so that when he dealt, he would get the winning hand. He just “forgot” to let the player next to him cut. This play will work once, but Anthony was greedy. Every time he shuffled, he always “forgot” to offer the cards to be cut before the deal. And, every time he dealt, he won. I watched him take thousands off other players over the course of a week. I couldn’t believe that he thought he could get away with this. I was entertained by his primitive and ballsy method; however, this was my game to run dry. So, the following week I did what’s known as a double duke. It was my turn to deal and I gave Anthony trip Tens and myself trip Queens. The board paired up and we both had full houses. Mine was better. He went all in. In one hand, Anthony lost everything he won over the past week. He was stunned. I winked at him as he left the game. He never came back again. (Anthony, if you’re reading this, I bought one of my favorite suits with that pot.)

When did you decide to quit cheating and go pro? During the period of hustling home games and gambling in casinos, I was also writing a book on some of the card tricks I had created. Gambling was fun, but my real passion was creating and performing for people. I also knew that if I continued gambling for a living, my life would become a factory job. Without realizing it, I could play forty-eight hours straight at the poker table if the cards were hot. I didn’t want to become someone that just grinds all day for chips. In my heart, I knew I wanted to be on stage performing what I had spent a lifetime learning. After around ten years of hustling, I quit and published my first book. Soon after that, I became a full-time professional entertainer.

Can you give us any advice on how to avoid being cheated in a game? Yes. Here are some general tips to keep you safe in your weekly card game. Cheats love to work in informal games, as the opportunities to move are far greater. So, the tips I’m about to share with you are for your casual weekly game with friends. Trust me, you’ll find more cheats here than you will in the formal games where the procedures are much stricter. First, Don’t think that everyone and their brother is a card cheat. There are really only a very few talented professional card cheats out there. Remember, you need to devote a lifetime of practice to master this craft. So your chances of getting hustled by the real deal are pretty low. It’s much more likely that you’re going to run into an amateur cheat. So, you should be able to spot the telltale signs. The key is to watch the dealer and pay attention. If you start watching the game or talking with friends, you’re making it much easier for the card cheat.

The biggest challenge a card cheat has during a game is to find cards of high value and get them to certain positions in the deck. So, stop anyone from shuffling the cards face up. That’s pretty obvious. But certainly stop anyone from casually spreading through the deck or the discards. The cheat will use the excuse, “Oh, I just wanted to see how far away the next King was.” This is a huge red flag. Never let anyone go through any face-up cards at any time during your game. Never let the deck go out of view either. A deck going under the table is another red flag. Always follow proper shuffling procedures. All players should use a tabled riffle shuffle where the cards are mixed while flat on the table a minimum of four times. Don’t allow the faces of any cards to flash while shuffling. Then the deck must always be handed off to the player to the right for a cut before the deal. The dealer must always complete the cut. This shuffling process should be established as a rule at the beginning of your game. Anyone not following these procedures must be told to do so.

If you become relaxed with the rules, a cheat will take advantage. Don’t have just one person deal all night. Pass the deal around clockwise to each player. You give one person too much control over the cards if you designate one person to shuffle and deal all night. I’d be suspicious of anyone that offered to be the house dealer all of the time. If a player can’t handle the cards well enough to shuffle and deal properly, they can just pass the deck to the next person. After a certain amount of time, or number of hands dealt, introduce a brand-new deck into the game. Cards get bent or dirty during regular play. A player can inadvertently mark a deck that someone else in the game could take advantage of. If a card gets wet, the edge will become very dark. If one player knows the identity of that card, he now has an advantage. If you switch in several new decks over the course of the night, you’ll be staying ahead of accidental markings. As a host, provide your own decks.

Don’t trust decks your players brought. There are cheats who intentionally mark cards by using nail nicks or slight bends in the cards. During the course of play, they’ll mark all the high values in the deck. Now they’ll know who has the good cards, and they’ll be able to steer these good cards into their hands. Again, introducing new decks during play will prevent this method of cheating. The dealer must never rotate the deck face up. The deck must remain flat in the dealer’s hands at all times. Tilting the deck allows for peeks. In the games I cheated in, if this rule was implemented, I wouldn’t have been able to cheat. Keep an eye out for anyone doing this. Now, just because you see a dealer occasionally do this doesn’t mean they’re a card cheat. It may be an unintentional action. If you see it, tell them to be sure to keep the deck flat so they’re not flashing cards.

Be on the lookout for what card cheats call shiners. These are reflective objects placed on the card table. A card cheat can use innocent objects as mirrors to peek cards on the top of the deck. Again, just because you see a silver money clip on a table doesn’t mean you have a cheat. Just be sure you don’t see cards passing over that money clip all night. (See photo 6.) Shiners can be very creative too. A cellphone screen is black, yet it acts just like a mirror. Other creative shiners are watches, cigar cutters, key chains, rings, sunglasses, money clips, silverware, and my personal favorite, a cup of black coffee.

Here’s one that’s a little tougher to spot, but if you do, you definitely have a cheater in the game. Let’s assume you’ve got everyone shuffling using a tabled riffle shuffle as I described before. Believe it or not, some skilled cheats can use this very shuffle to manipulate the cards. In this shuffle, you let the cards fall from both thumbs at an equal rate until the interlace is complete. If you see someone use their thumbs to pick up cards after they’ve fallen, they’re using the shuffle to reposition the cards. If you see someone lifting the cards quite high as they fall, they are using the shuffle to peek at the cards as they fall. (See photo 7.) And finally, if you see someone hesitate during the riffling process, they may be using the shuffle to place certain cards at certain positions. A true tabled riffle shuffle should be nearly instant.

Be aware each week who the winners are. Take notes and keep a detailed journal of your winnings and interesting things that happened during the game. If the same person or the same group of people win each week—be aware. No one’s lucky all the time. Take note of how they played the hand. Nothing gives away a poor cheater faster than his betting strategy. Look for the guy who is wildly raising pre-flop with Queen-Two suited. When he catches his flush on the river consistently, you probably have a cheater in your game. Greed is the downfall of most cheats.

Finally, if you do catch someone, or strongly suspect someone of cheating in your game, there’s no need to make a scene. Hollywood has created the notion that this moment should be some violent confrontation. At the end of the night, privately tell them they’re no longer invited to your game. Naturally, your card cheat will deny everything. Just ignore it and move on. I wish you the best of luck in your home games and I hope you never see me in one of them.

Be sure to follow Jason on Instagram @cardmagicbyjason for all the latest news and updates!